With the calendar flipping to February, the equipment truck was loaded up and departed Citi Field for Port St. Lucie on Thursday, which generally makes for a nice photo op involving Mr. Met — as long as he holds up the right fingers — and signifies the pending dawn of another spring training.
Sandy Alderson likened the symbolism to the “swans returning to Capistrano,” and even if any holdover fans of the Ink Spots or Pat Boone know he meant swallows, you get the point.
The Mets, as Alderson made sure to point out again in a meet-and-greet with fans, actually have spent more money than a lot of teams have in what has been a brutally stagnant cool-stove winter across baseball.
But the depressed and flooded last-minute marketplace — with dozens of significant free agents still unsigned at various positions of need as camp approaches — presents them with a real opportunity now to fill their remaining roster holes with something the Wilpons usually can only dream about — favorable contracts.
It is one they shouldn’t pass up, and can’t mess up, if they truly are serious about still having some payroll flexibility and about contending in 2018.
“It’s surprising. There are always going to be some big names available at the beginning of spring training, but there’s an exorbitant number this year,” Alderson said. “I’m sure that will change at some point one way or the other, and it will loosen up on one side or both, but right now, it isn’t just clubs that are not signing players, it’s players that are not signing contracts…. It’s going to be interesting the next two or three weeks.”
MLB’s free-agent period generally is slower in developing each year than the short-term spending frenzies we regularly see in the other major sports as soon as their respective signing periods open.
Still, this year’s market has been so excruciatingly slow to develop that folks are casually tossing around the taboo term “collusion” again and one high-level player — Dodgers All-Star closer Kenley Jansen — already has warned publicly of another players’ strike.
Alderson reiterated that the Mets are “still looking at our infield situation,” with everyone knowing the names available by now.
But it was noteworthy to hear him publicly suggest that he believes Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas might ultimately be forced to accept a short-term deal that would keep him under the top-tier compensation threshold ($ 50 million in total value).
Todd Frazier still would cost significantly less to play the position, but Alderson made it sound as if the others he’s considering — free agents Eduardo Nunez and Neil Walker and trade target Josh Harrison, all of whom he mentioned by name — would provide more roster flexibility due to their proven abilities to man multiple positions, especially with David Wright unable to be counted on to finally resume his playing career.
Then again, Asdrubal Cabrera was quoted publicly last week as saying he’d prefer second base to third, an unforeseen development Alderson acknowledged could sway his approach to fill that opening.
“I saw that, yeah,” Alderson said with a laugh. “Well, I think it factors in in one sense, and that is that he was moved off shortstop last year, went to second briefly and then ended up at third base and was there for the balance of the season. We thought he played pretty well there. We wanted to try to anchor that position in the event David Wright can’t come back.
“So we were a little reluctant actually to approach Asdrubal about moving off of third if we were to find somebody to play third. So now that we know he’d be happier at second, I think it broadens the scope of what we might be able to do. So I’m glad to hear that he’s a little bit flexible.”
Elsewhere, Alderson also stated that the Mets are “open-minded that we can upgrade in other places if the opportunities arise, and we’re going to try to be opportunistic about it.”
That’s exactly why the time for the Mets to pounce is now, because this sort of market-correction opportunity doesn’t come around every year.
Alderson termed a Bringing Sexy Back reunion with Bartolo Colon as “unlikely,” but as Daily News colleague John Harper has been beating the drum all winter, free agent starter Lance Lynn would be precisely the dependable and durable upgrade and hedge against further injuries needed for new manager Mickey Callaway’s question-riddled rotation.
For the bullpen, Alderson also expressed the possibility of still adding one more reliever following the 2017 late-season trade for A.J. Ramos and this winter’s signing of Anthony Swarzak, specifically a second lefty to pair with Jerry Blevins. (Hint: Tony Watson is still available for that role).
One player it won’t be is still-banned, multi-time PED offender Jenrry Mejia, of whom Alderson cracked to the fans, “My specific goal for him is don’t flunk a drug test for the next year and a half or so and see and if you can get reinstated.”
Yes, we all know that Alderson long ago proved he rarely passes up the opportunity for a top-notch one-liner. He shouldn’t pass up the opportunity before him to further augment the Mets’ roster for the upcoming season, either.